An Erotics of Art: Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”

After we had condensed a fat classic into a single line in high school–my introduction to literary criticism–I grumbled to myself, “If that was all the writer wanted to say, then why did I have to read 472 pages and several articles? Why didn’t he just say it directly? Why bother hiding his point behind obscure symbols, as if it were some complex word puzzle?”

However, as Susan Sontag suggests in her essay “Against Interpretation,” art is more than its meaning. It is an experience, a sensual, emotional, and spiritual interaction. The urge to interpret, she argues, is “the revenge of the intellect upon art,” the revenge of the mind against something it cannot easily contain.

Instead, she says, we need an “erotics of art.”

“Bliss Dance,” giant sculpture by Macrco Cochane that once graced Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay (photo by Ronosaurus Rex)

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The Venus of Interpretation: Susan Sontag is “Against Interpretation” and for the Sensual Love of Art

venus_of_willendorf_by_artofthemystic-d3glif3In the beginning, art was religion.

“The earliest experience of art,” Susan Sontag writes in “Against Interpretation,” “must have been that it was incantatory, magical” (Sontag 1). With her round belly and mammoth breasts, The Venus of Willendorf, one of the earliest known human figurines from 30,000 BCE, was some kind of invocation, whether of fertility, childbearing, sex, the harvest, or the earth we cannot know, but she is undeniably an invocation.

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